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What Does "Good as Gold" Mean?

By Alan Rankin
Updated May 23, 2024
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“Good as gold” or “as good as gold” are common English expressions meaning something is genuine or reliable. Referring to people, particularly children, they usually mean well behaved. “Good as gold” is one of numerous figures of speech involving gold as a desirable standard of some kind. The expression is a simile, an analogy used to describe something by comparing it to something else. The word “gold” itself is one of the oldest words in the English language.

Gold is a rare mineral with many decorative and practical uses. Human societies around the world have assigned great value to the metal since prehistory. Explorers of the New World sought legendary cities of gold, often resulting in tragedy for their expeditions or, more frequently, for the indigenous cultures they encountered. Gold is highly malleable and has been used in many applications throughout history, including jewelry, art, and even food. In modern times, it is used in electronics manufacturing and dentistry as well as its more traditional uses.

According to Robert Hendrickson’s Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, “gold” is one of the four oldest words in the English language. In other words, it has retained its original form and meaning longer than almost any other word in the language. The word “gol” was used in the Indo-European language that formed the root of most Western languages, demonstrating how long gold has been a standard of value. For the curious, the other three oldest words are “apple,” “bad,” and “tin.”

Gold has been exchanged as a form of currency for thousands of years. Nations such as England and the United States used coins containing some gold until the early 20th century. The metal has also been used to bring value to a nation’s currency, a practice known as the gold standard. Many forms of money, including the American dollar, were originally valued by how much gold they theoretically equaled. This currency was thus “as good as gold.”

“Good as gold” is one of many English expressions using the word “gold” to equal value or admirable qualities. A “heart of gold,” for instance, means someone has a pure spirit despite outward appearances. The “golden rule” suggests that everyone should behave with empathy, at the very least, toward other people and fellow creatures. Gold medals, gold rings, and golden ages are supposed to represent the purest and highest of human achievements. If something or someone approaches perfection, it is often said to be “golden.”

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Discussion Comments
By turquoise — On Dec 13, 2013

@ddljohn-- "Good as gold" was written on IOUs right? It meant that the money owed would be paid with gold later on. It was a way to make paper notes eligible for exchange when gold was not available immediately.

It's kind of interesting how "genuine" came to mean "good" as in "obedient." And it's almost exclusively used for children. Language can be very interesting.

By ddljohn — On Dec 12, 2013

@ZipLine-- "All that glitters is not gold" is older than "good as gold." But the use of "gold" to mean something that's genuine, valuable or nice has been around for a long time. So these two phrases are similar in that way, because gold is used as a simile. But they are not similar in terms of origin.

"Good as gold" comes from an era when gold was used as currency. It was the most valuable thing, and naturally, other things that were genuine and valuable were compared to it.

The present day meaning of "good a gold" came later. It didn't mean "well-behaved" from the beginning.

By ZipLine — On Dec 12, 2013

Does this analogy have anything to do with the idiom "all that glitters is not gold?" Was one developed from the other?

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